New Year’s Day seems like the perfect time to begin anew. The world is celebrating, emotions are high, and the very earth is poised to bloom into renewed life over the next few months. Most of us ride the wave and make a few resolutions, promising ourselves that we’re going to get out of debt, lose weight, or simply reinvent ourselves.
And by mid-February, we fail. We forget those promises. Over the next months, flowers bloom and the trees spring to life, but we’re left in that same cold winter of the status quo all year round.
The making of New Year’s resolutions is an old habit of the human race, extending all the way back to the ancient Babylonians, who were making resolutions about 4,000 years ago. They made promises to their gods to pay off debts and returned borrowed items—promises that, if kept, were thought to curry favor with the gods in the coming year.
There’s a reason we’ve been making resolutions for so long. The very nature of celebrating the New Year brings our faults to the forefront. The season is changing, the year is turning, and the feeling of transience reminds us that we have a chance to begin again.
Resolutions are a way of erasing the mistakes of the past through the promise of a better future.
But despite having 4,000 years of practice, we’re abysmally bad at keeping these promises to ourselves. While 41 percent of Americans make a habit of laying out New Year’s resolutions, only 9.2 keep them.
But why is that? Why do we continually make the same promises to ourselves year after year, only to fail time and again?
The reason is simple: we’re confining our efforts to change to one day a year.
Humans are creatures of habit and hope. We get caught up in the motivating emotion of the New Year, thinking we can do anything. We make promises, intending to keep them. But when that emotion and revelry wears off, our motivation disappears. We stop going to the gym. We start overspending again.
So what’s the trick to sticking to our guns throughout the entirety of the year rather than fizzling out in February?
We need self-discipline.
Consider this. There are two types of writers—professionals and amateurs. Amateur writers have only a fraction of the output of the pros. Why?
Because they wait for inspiration to strike. They sit and stare out the window, awaiting the romance and intrigue of that Perfect Moment—that instant when the rays of sunlight alight just right, when a swarm of butterflies swirl past, when the clouds arrange themselves into sacred shapes.
In other words, they do nothing.
Professional writers, on the other hand, work constantly. They place posteriors on seats and set fingers to keyboards. They don’t need the euphoric emotion of the Perfect Moment. For them, every moment is the Perfect Moment, because they’re not running on emotion; they’re running on discipline.
Resolution makers are those amateur writers, working only in the heat of the moment, and then stopping as soon as it’s over.
Don’t be an amateur resolution-maker. Be a pro. Here’s what you can do instead.
Make Goals Year-Round
Don’t confine your major goal-making to New Year’s Day. When you see a need in your life, make a promise to yourself to fill it.
That means, if you notice that your pile of debt is beginning to get out of control around mid-year, make a July resolution. If you start putting on some Thanksgiving pounds, make a November resolution.
Make these resolutions with the same fervor and sincerity that you would feel on New Year’s Day. Remember—every month, every day, every hour, and every breath is a new beginning.
Take advantage of them all.
Rely on Discipline
The biggest mistake most resolution-makers make is relying on emotions to motivate them.
Emotions are mercurial. They change and flow like sand dunes in the wind. Would you build your house on a foundation of sand?
No—you wouldn’t. You’d build it on solid rock. And what’s more solid than an iron will?
Willpower is a muscle like any other—it can be weakened through disuse, or strengthened through regular practice. And the product of a strong will is self-discipline, which is the factor that will have you keeping your resolutions past the dreaded February mark and on through the rest of the year—for the rest of your life, in fact.
Discipline helps you intentionally build good habits, and good habits build good lifestyles. Emotion alone cannot do this for you.